Monday 7 December 2015

Naming of storms

At least two people have now been killed by Storm Desmond. A 90 year old man was blown into the side of a moving bus in London, and another elderly man was swept into a river in Cumbria. Before Desmond, we were buffeted by Abigail, Barney and Clodagh

Until the last few months, only the very biggest storms got names in the UK - and those were unofficial ones, like the Great Storms of  1703 and 1987, the Burns' Day Storm of 1990, and the St Jude's Storm of 2013. Now, though, the Met Office has adopted the practice that forecasters in other countries have followed with major storms, and started giving them consecutive alphabetical names.

In the old days  in the West Indies, storms would be named after the saint's day on which they appeared. Then in the 19th century, an Australian meteorologist started calling them after politicians he disliked. Next the authorities tried numbers, but this proved too confusing when there was more than one blowing.

During World War Two, clarity was essential, so US meteorologists went back to names - often those of a wife or girlfriend. Then in 1953, the US National Weather Service drew up an official slate of female names, which continued until the late 1970s when feminist groups protested, and the authorities agreed to alternate male and female names. 

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